The story of how Dukes Wood Oilfield began....
Until the 1914-18 War the possibility of oilfields occurring in the UK was neglected but the onset of submarine warfare threatened supplies. A serious search was undertaken and sponsored by the Government. Following advice of American consultants, attention was focused on the folds flanking the Pennine Uplift and a number of exploratory wells were drilled. Results were generally disappointing with some Oil and Gas being found in Lothian, Scotland.
However a significant find occurred at Hardstoft in Derbyshire, 14½ miles West of Dukes Wood. Indications of the possible presence of oil had been observed through the seepages that had been recorded in local collieries, particularly at Langwith and Shirebrook.
At 3070ft on the 27th May 1919, oil was struck in the sandy
limestone near the top of a faulted dome in the main carboniferous
limestone measures and production commenced in June 1919. Oil was produced
here until December 1927 and 2500 tons of oil was produced at an average of
6 barrels a day.
The bore hole was prone to waxing and silting and the well never favoured a free flow of oil, however production was doubled when a pumping test was carried out in 1921 by the Government and managed to double production from 7 barrels per day to 14.6 barrels per day. This operation was not continued however, as the Government was not in a position to undertake commercial oil production and marketing.
The Government decided in 1921 to close all wells except at Hardstoft and D'Arcy (in Lothian, Scotland) whilst Parliament tried to resolve the oil ownership question. The Hardstoft Oil Well was taken over by the Duke of Devonshire on 26th March 1923 who owned the mineral rights and the land over the oilwell. The site of this, the first UK oilwell, can be viewed at the Hardstoft Oilwell Nursery. (Tel. 01773 874321). See District of Bolsover website here
At the end of WWI hostilities supplies from abroad became available again and further exploration in the UK was virtually abandoned. However one lasting result was that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company suggested to the British Government to simplify the legal and administrative aspects for prospecting. The resulting Petroleum Production Act of 1934 vested Crown ownership of all mineral oil not discovered up to date and made it possible for a company to acquire exploration licenses in the UK for the first time.
The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited working through its subsidiary the D'Arcy Exploration Co Ltd launched a major drilling programme. The first Well of this programme being spudded at Portsdown in January 1936. New discoveries were made and there were 'indications' in the Purbeck Limestones and of 'oilsands' in Wealden Beds near Lulworth in Dorset and a previously recorded outcropping of 'oilsands' at Pevensey in Sussex. Also a strongly impregnated 'oilsand' in the Corallian Rocks near Weymouth.
The first deep well test drilling in the UK was carried out at Portsdown Hill overlooking Portsmouth into a strong 'anticline'. This well penetrated 6556 feet through the Jurassic rocks and into the Triassic rocks finding a small quantity of oil at one level only. Several other sites in the Hampshire, Dorset and Sussex regions were also tried and a little oil was found but these were abandoned due to poor development of the reservoir beds. The operation was moved to the Midlands and the North.
D'Arcy Oil tested for the possibility of Permian Gas at Eskdale by drilling a 5040 ft well. This well gave a yield of nearly pure Methane at 2.5 cubic feet per day. D'Arcy also found an 'anticline' at Dalkieth near Edinburgh with minor quantities of oil being present. Meanwhile geological and geophysical work continued in the Midlands both east and west of the Pennines. Drilling at Gun Hill in Staffordshire and Alport in Derbyshire were unsuccessful. A shallow oilfield was found at Formby in Lancashire but the most significant find was at Eakring.
The known 'anticlines' on the flanks of the Pennines had rightly received attention from 1918 to 1922 but results were rather disappointing. However information on geological conditions became newly available from Colliery workings. The programme took full advantage from this Colliery data and detailed structure contour maps were prepared covering extensive new areas in the East Midlands. This work indicated that the Carboniferous Rocks were folded into a large 'anticline' with its crest in the vicinity of Eakring village in Nottinghamshire. Furthermore a coal exploration borehole at nearby Kelham had yielded oil.
Refraction tests were done to define the crest of this 'anticline' and the first test well (Eakring No 1) found oil in the sands of basal Coal Measures and in three other sand levels. The first deep well through the limestone was dug through at Well 146 at Dukes Wood. The Lower Carboniferous massive limestone was penetrated to a depth of 2555 - 4180 feet. Below 2880, 200feet of green igneous rock was present. From 4180 - 5540 feet red conglomerates and sandstones alternated with thin fossil bearing limestone. Below this were more steeply dipping red conglomerates and more sandstones which continued to 7200 feet.
Some very dark fine grained phyllitic sandstones were found along with some dark grey quartzite and hard black shale. This level (between 7463 ft and 7468 ft) were found to contain commercially important quantities of oil. This well and two others at Caunton and Kelham Hills constituted the first commercial UK oilfield. The specific gravities of this crude oil in the 'Dukes Wood and Eakring Dome' were between 0.853 and 0.863 which indicates very high quality oil.
The deepest well to be drilled at Dukes Wood was No 146 to a depth of 7473 feet. Pictured above are members of the drilling team involved in this achievement.
Throughout these operations rotary drilling has been employed, by which the rock is cut by a toothed head or bit on the end of a rotating drill pipe. A special clay based mud pumped continuously down the drill pipe flushes the rock cuttings from the hole, lubricates the bit, supports the sides of the hole and controls any shows of gas, oil or water. Straightness and speed of drilling are aided by using a drill collar, or length of heavy flexible pipe which joins the drill pipe to the bit. In the early stages, elaborate and costly deep well equipment and layout involved excessive use of manpower and considerable loss of time.
The outbreak of the Second World War caused shortages of both material supplies and labour, and this situation coincided with the planning of intensive drilling operations in the production areas with well-defined objectives. Modern American methods, introduced at this time, led to great improvements in overall speed and costs. The modern American drilling equipment employed consists of a utilised rig and Jack-knife 87 ft mast, the whole being designed for maximum mobility and for a drilling depth of 5000 ft. With the old type heavy exploration outfits, the transfer time of drilling equipment from site to site was about 2 weeks.
By using a special 87 ft mast, in combination with utilised draw-works, this interval was reduced in good weather, to about 12 hours. At Eakring a record move of 6½ hours was made and on one occasion an outfit was transferred to a new site and drilled 650 ft in 24 hours. Clearly manpower and equipment were in short supply during the early war years. Vital supplies of fuel needed for the war effort had to be shipped through the dangerous U-boat infested waters surrounding the British Isles. What was clearly needed was the new equipment and the necessary expertise to use this equipment efficiently.
In August 1942 Britain's secretary of Petroleum, Geoffrey Lloyd, called an emergency meeting in London of the Oil Control Board with members of the oil industry's advisory committee. The subject was the impending crisis in Oil. The Admiralty had reported fuel stocks were two million barrels below safety reserves and were sufficient to meet only two months requirement. Reserves of approximately five million barrels were normally held in some forty widely scattered storage facilities. Bombing raids in dockland areas had destroyed almost a million barrels. At the same time increasing military activity in North Africa were increasing the demand for more oil.
At this time Prime Minister Winston Churchill was in Moscow to explain to the Russians that a cross channel invasion would have to wait whilst Middle East oil was secured from the rampaging Rommel. At this meeting was C A P (Philip) Southwell an industry representative from the D'Arcy Oil Company. Southwell was a petroleum engineer of twenty years experience. He had served with the Royal Artillery in WWI and was awarded the military cross in 1918. A good speaker Southwell immediately got the group's attention. He told them that the development of the Great Britain's own oilfields to their full potential was the most pressing matter. The statement ' Great Britain's own oilfields' astounded the listeners: What oilfields?
Southwell realised that only a select few of those attending the meeting knew of the discoveries of oil in the Eakring area during 1939 and 1940. Calmly he answered all the questions directed at him, except one. He felt it unnecessary and dangerous to pinpoint the location of the fields lest the enemy pick up this information. He explained that development had been going on since early 1939. Presently fifty producing wells had been completed in three areas at depths of 2380 to 2500 feet yielding about 700 barrels of very high grade crude oil per day.
Southwell explained that development had been slow. The use of the 136 ft drilling derricks were not suitable for rapid drilling in relatively shallow production. These derricks had been designed for use in Persia where deeper drilling is required. Too much time was wasted in building each derrick at the present time, it required some 9 weeks for drilling and completion of the well. Not only that but replacement parts for the well-worn rig equipment was in short supply. Southwell presented a recommendation of D'Arcy officials that an additional hundred wells drilled in the producing area would quadruple the production. He also stated that he had high hopes of further discoveries of much larger producing fields.
Southwell proposed that a D'Arcy representative should go at once to the United States were more modern drilling equipment was available. Southwell closed his proposal by stating that this secret location was located inland and in a heavily wooded area safe from inquisitive eyes and easily camouflaged from the attentions of the Luftwaffe. It was Southwell himself who flew to Washington on September 3rd 1942.
Southwell's clipper touched down first in Montreal where he then boarded a plane to New York in his briefcase was vital information about Britain's secret oilfields. His briefcase was opened by the customs on entering New York, the customs officer clearly not realising the value of the information contained within. He was met by B R Jackson (an Anglo-Iranian Oil rep) and Cartwright Reid a young Englishman in Jackson's office. The three of them continued to Washington. A late afternoon meeting had been arranged for Southwell and Reid with Mr Don Knowlton of the Petroleum Administrators for War production division in America. They met in room 2020.
Southwell told Knowlton that he was in America to secure the use of ten of the latest drilling rigs suitable for drilling depths of twenty-five hundred feet, two strings of 3½ inch and two strings of 4½ inch drill pipe and a supply of rotary rock bits. The rigs were to supplement old oversized and cumbersome equipment now being used in the development of Britain's oilfields. Knowlton was surprised, he had no idea that oil was being produced in Britain. Southwell explained that very few people know and that the information was secret. They agreed to meet again on Labour Day.
Knowlton had known of Britain's petroleum position he had received from PAW officials in London. Southwell met Knowlton on Labour Day and he advised him that such equipment should not be directly purchased by any foreign corporations, foreign citizens or foreign government for legal reasons. Some other method had to be employed and it was Southwell who came up with the idea.
A telephone call from Knowlton the next day advised that two California drilling contractors and two from Oklahoma had been contacted. They would meet with Southwell in Knowlton's office the following Monday. The Monday came and two contractors from Oklahoma met with Southwell. They were Mr Lloyd Noble of Ardmore, Oklahoma, president of Noble Corporation and his right hand man Mr C C Forbes, with headquarters in Tulsa, and Mr Frank Porter president of Fain-Porter Drilling Company with offices in Oklahoma City. Noble and Porter discussed the matter at length with Southwell. Southwell did not divulge the exact location of the field. Both Noble and Porter said that they were heavily committed to other projects and turned Southwell down.
Southwell was desperate, so desperate he then did an amazing thing. He asked Reid to get him a seat to Dallas the nearest service to Ardmore, Oklahoma. Reid couldn't but Southwell hitchhiked on a British Naval plane which took him to New Orleans leaving from Andrews Air force base at 5 am. On arrival at New Orleans Southwell got a standby flight to Dallas. At Dallas Southwell rented a car and he received one tank of gasoline with no guarantee of getting any more. So with no means of returning to Dallas Southwell headed for Ardmore, Oklahoma.
After a few directions from people in the streets of Ardmore he eventually located Lloyd Noble's home. Noble came to the door in his pyjamas and was impressed with Southwell. A conversation ensued whilst Noble bathed and shaved, they both had shared experiences. They had both served in World war One and both were college men, they had a lot in common. Eventually Noble, choosing his words carefully, agreed that if Porter would join him then they would get together again and talk things over. Noble then said that he would not expect any profit out of the work and would not have considered it had it not been vital war work.
A few days later Mr Ed Holt and Mr P M Johns of Noble Corporation, Frank Porter of the Fain-Porter met with Southwell, Jackson and Cartwright Reid. Two members of the Washington PAW were also present when Southwell outlined his plan for one hundred more wells. Holt observed that ten rigs would be more than he needed, four rigs would do the job. Holt suggested to Southwell that he go to Illinois to look at drilling operations being conducted there. After going to Illinois, Southwell agreed that four rigs would do the job. A contract was worked out and what the Americans were to call 'The English Project' was up and running.
Sir Philip Southwell with his wife and son Richard in front of Buckingham Palace following Sir Philip's decoration by the Queen in 1954